Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Gregory Betts

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Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets with Open Book's Poets in Profile Series. In today's feature, Gregory Betts tells us about the secret codes he would have left behind in Gilgamesh (had he been the one to write it) and his very first publication, unknown to all but his mother for many years.

Gregory Betts will read at Sami's in Welland on Tuesday, June 7th. Visit the Niagara Literary Arts Festival website for details. He will also be leading a Plunderverse workshop in St. Catharines on June 18th. Find out more here.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Gregory Betts:

Here?s where I wish I had a story of an almost totally debilitating inarticulacy followed by a grand seduction conducted entirely through writing scribbled either in tears or blood or the juice of roses. Instead, I blame the interlaced network of moments in which I received an idle lean of support or an encouragement to push off in haste with the hastening current; to carry on, and go deeper.

I read a poem once at an open mic at Queen?s University, and a poli-sci student came up to me with an incredulous expression, saying, ?That did something? as if she doubted language had the right. My high school teacher collected all of the poetry I wrote for his and other classes and submitted them to an anthology without my knowing or consent. The poems he submitted ended up getting published, but after I graduated. He sent the anthology to my mother, who neglected to let me know until after my second book came out, and I watched her shelve it beside the unknown anthology.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


I recently found a little chapbook I made in Grade 4 with two of my own poems, a review of one poem by W.W.E. Ross and another by William Carlos Williams. I compared them to the television show The Twilight Zone, which I guess suggests that they meant a lot to me. Precocious I used the term ?hallucinogenic? to describe Williams?s poem, although I am almost certain that I had no idea what the term meant.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


Gilgamesh — and had I the chance, I would insert secret messages to my later self that only I would be able to detect.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


When an idea starts to take shape, I have consistently turned to running to meditate and allow it to percolate. I think it is the constant movement of the body that creates a rhythm in my imagination that develops into a whole-body mastication of a new thought or sound. Almost all of my writing has a root in either a perfectly abstract or perfectly material note, pounded out on a hardened black soil trail beneath the sun.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


Leave it and move on. I have boxes of untouched material, and I delete twice the amount I save after a certain period of letting it clog up my hard-drive. I mean, if I can?t even convince myself that it?s interesting, just let it go!


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


Intimate Distortions by Steve McCaffery. It is a sequence of lyric poems that ?displace? the surviving fragments of Sappho. In a way the book is similar to McCaffery?s Every Way Oakley, which displaces Gertrude Stein?s Tender Buttons, but the writing here takes the failure of language, its essential inarticulateness, to an exquisite end — to ?sing the truth in lies?. From such a pataphysical base, the poems elude and yet access the ?infinite / in finite?. I found the book in another pile of treasures at Alphabet Books down in Port Colborne, Ontario.


What is the best thing about being a poet?and what is the worst?


The best and worst thing about poetry at this historical junction is its irrelevance. This irrelevance opens up the occasion to follow our imaginations to the very edge of our ideology and peer into the chaotic anarchic spaces beyond. In other words, the fact that poetry does not matter means we can elude the materialist compromise. In fact, given this potential to think radically and to radically rethink the world we?ve inherited, I increasingly believe that it is every poet?s duty (and by duty, I really mean opportunity) to pursue their imagination far beyond their comfort until they arrive at something essentially disruptive.

Gregory Betts is a poet, editor and professor at Brock University in St. Catharines. He is the author of four books of poetry and the editor of four books of experimental Canadian writing. He received the 2010 Jean-Michel Lacroix Award for the best essay on a Canadian subject by the International Journal of Canadian Studies and his book The Others Raisd in Me was a shortlisted finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award. He recently completed a history of early Canadian avant-gardism that is now forthcoming by the University of Toronto Press. Find out more by visiting him here.

The Others Raisd in Me is published by Pedlar Press. For more information The Obvious Flap, co-written with Gary Barwin, please visit the BookThug website.

Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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